Men’s soccer lost the final game of the 2023 season Saturday night to the first-place Occidental Tigers, 2-0.
“We just couldn’t keep up with their work rate,” head coach Trevor Persson said. “We talked about it at halftime, we have pretty much the same tactical type movements, adjustments, style of play, but they have total buy-in in their work rates.”
The Tigers dominated possession in the first half, limiting the Leopards to just two shots and none of them on net. Meanwhile, the Tigers logged 13 shots and six of them were on net.
With the ball constantly in the Leopards’ side of the field, junior goalkeeper Hector Duenas-Peña had to stay sharp. There were plenty of opportunities for the Tigers to score, but Duenas-Peña came up big and made saves to keep the game scoreless.
The first of many saves for the La Verne keeper came 17 minutes into the game when the Tigers were awarded a free kick and senior defenseman Sebastian Romero fired a shot that was stopped by the diving Duenas-Peña. The next big save came a few minutes later when Romero found himself on a partial breakaway but his shot was blocked by Duenas-Peña once again.
Occidental kept applying pressure, but Duenas-Peña stood his ground with another diving save to rob sophomore midfielder Aiden Aley, then Duenas-Peña made a series of saves on a free kick that bounced around in front of the net for a bit before finally being cleared out of harm’s way.
The Leopards were finally able to exit their side of the field and get a scoring chance when at the 31 minute mark graduate student midfielder Owen Osagiede fired a shot that went just wide to the left of the goal. Moments later, junior forward Adan Villarreal had a shot that went over the net.
The Tigers finally broke through and scored the first goal of the game at 34:10 when junior midfielder Andrew Notter’s shot found the back of the net.
The first half ended with the Tigers holding a 1-0 lead.
“I think in the first half we didn’t execute our plan and didn’t play together,” junior goalkeeper Logan Reese said. “Those good teams, you need to have everyone bought in because they are very detailed and competitive.”
Reese replaced Duenas-Peña in goal for the second half and had to make big stops of his own to keep this game close.
The Tigers threatened to score at the 56:36 mark when a corner kick led to a shot on goal by junior forward Oury Diane, but Reese made the save and the second attempt was sent over the net.
At 72:50, senior midfielder Joey Schwartz’s shot from a free kick got past the diving Reese to give the Tigers’ a 2-0 lead.
After the goal, the Leopards did a much better job of maintaining possession of the ball and both teams went back and forth for the rest of the game, not being able to spend long periods of time in each other’s zone. The Leopards would come close to ending the shutout bid when Osagiede fired a shot that was deflected over the net by the hand of the driving Tiger goalkeeper.
The clock ran down and Occidental took the game, 2-0.
“In the first half we didn’t come out on the same page,” Osagiede said. “Work rate has to be there and it wasn’t there in the first half, but in the second half I think we stepped it up a little bit, but unfortunately we couldn’t get one in the back of the net.”
The final shot totals were 22-4 in favor of the Tigers and 10-1 for shots on goal.
“We had a game plan, and the first five to 10 minutes we stuck to it, and then we kind of stopped playing to our game plan and we were just all over the place,” senior defenseman Alexander Villanueva-Ontiveros said.
The Leopards end the 2023 campaign 6-7-5 overall and 2-6-5 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
Jack Janes can be reached at email@example.com.